Brenda Oakes is a founder member of FFLAG.
About three weeks before he was due to go to University in 1983, Mike dropped his bombshell and announced to Jim and me that he was gay.
It was quite a shock as we had never for one minute suspected that he might be, though looking back, had we known more about this issue, we might have guessed.
Jim and I were both upset and confused, though for Michael's sake, who was about to leave home for the first time, we tried to cover it up and look cheerful. I don't think it worked. We just didn't know anything about homosexuality except for the rather negative images that the media was giving out at that time, and of course we knew only too well of the prejudice and bigotry caused by prevalent religious ideas.
We were very frightened for Mike, and imagined he would have a terrible life, lonely, isolated and possibly attacked.
We knew it had taken a lot of courage to tell us, and there was no doubt that we would continue to love and support him, but we felt that it was hard enough for him to go away to university, and being gay seemed to us at the time like another cross to bear.
We did what most parents seem to do, and thought it must be our fault. We traced back through his childhood looking for clues but found none. I brought home books and we searched in vain for a cause, eventually realising that there wasn't one, and that he is simply as he is.
We went through a kind of bereavement process, partly as he was going so far away, and partly the feeling that he was now a stranger whom we did not understand. Slowly the realisation dawned that he hadn't changed at all, we simply knew him better, and it was us, the ancient parents, who were having to go through a metamorphosis. We examined everything we had ever been taught, much of it anti-gay, and most of it from religious ideas based on fear and ignorance. We recognised the enormous gap in our knowledge. For example, as a policeman, Jim had only seen gay people as criminals. None of what we knew in those early days was helping us, it just made us more confused, as we knew our son, and we knew him to be a kind, loving, honest, hardworking and intelligent young man.
Eventually I learned about a parents' group in Manchester, and things really began to look up. It was a wonderful opportunity to share all our concerns and our ignorance with other parents, and we were greatly helped by those who had been there before us.
We didn't tell the other children for almost two years as we weren't sure what Mike wanted us to do, and we didn't like to put pressure on him.
Eventually he told Jackie himself and she insisted on the other boys and their wives knowing as well. She was upset and felt that her family might become divided, so Mike gave us permission to tell them as he went to Berlin for his year abroad. Steve and Graham and their wives were surprised, but, as we hoped, totally supportive of their younger brother.
Mike enjoyed his time at Essex and made some good friends. Gradually, as we learned more, our fears for him disappeared and we were very proud of our gay son. It wasn't something he chose, but simply was, and he was coping admirably with his life.
Since retirement we have enjoyed lots of holidays, some abroad and some in the U.K. We have become interested in bird watching, but can't really be called 'twitchers' as we're just beginners, but we've joined the R.S.P.B. and try to visit the bird sanctuaries when we can, especially those in Norfolk, where we like to go, and we stay with Mike at his home in Norwich.